Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What would Arthur do?

Every few years I am forcibly reminded they no longer teach The Crucible in high school english class.This rather astonishes me on so many levels:  Arthur Miller was an american playwright, writing about an event in american history that had strong tie-ins to what was at the time of writing american current events.  Also, even though there was already a french film version, they made it into a movie with Winona Ryder & Daniel Day-Lewis & it has been my sad experience that some english teachers like to set up a movie JUST IN CASE someone in class could not be bothered to find the crib notes.  Also, in the case of one friend's english teacher it meant she (the teacher) could nap peacefully in the dark while the kids are more or less occupied; I LOVE teachers but there are a few bad apples in there.  Or maybe they are just tired.  It has been a long, ugly haul for teachers here in Fladidah.

The american movie is not bad, actually.  It takes a few side roads from the play, mostly because it can (a change of scenery does a body good after all & just imagine a movie that remained set in what a stage could manage in scene changes).  If you are someone who does not much care for reading plays (it is a learned skill & even then you may not develop a taste for it), go ahead & watch the movie.  Netflix even has it on Instant View in time for the Hallowe'en season, & really what is scarier than Salem witches at Hallowe'en?  Turns out the day-to-day Salem townsfolk are pretty damn frightening themselves.

The gist of The Crucible in a paragraph is this:  for a variety of motives, the best of them being religious zealotry, the people of a village start accusing each other of witchcraft.  Once accused, you are more or less can give the people accusing you another name.  Doesn't even have to be all that plausible; just say "yes, but I was lured & so-&-so lured me".  You will get a slap on the wrist, lose your property (maybe) & be shamed & ostracized (becoming a member of a group almost as large as said village, so that's not so bad, really).  Then of course you have to live with yourself, forever after, knowing that you are responsible for whatever happens to the next person.  & the next.  & the next.

If it all sounds a bit familiar, it was meant to.  When The Crucible was written, the Salem Witch Trials were common knowledge.  So was McCarthyism, whereby people were called up before a senate committee, accused of Communism & sentenced to jail, blacklisted, whatever.  Pretty much the only way to ease your situation was to say "yes, but I was lured; so-&-so lured me".  Some people resisted & their lives were ruined, Pete Seeger famously resisted & his life sure looked like ruined for a few years, but he who laughs last & all that.  I suspect few people on this earth will ever laugh so completely as Pete Seeger, in a completely not-malicious, laugh-along-with-me kind of way.

Late in their cycle, when the popularity wheel was rolling away from them, the McCarthy-ites turned their attention to Arthur Miller.  He was, at the time, married to Marilyn Monroe & most historians agree the accusation was almost certainly a ploy to grab some headlines rather than a sincere attempt to isolate the most dangerous communist in the country.  Unfortunately (depending on your perspective), Miller's response to the McCarthy spotlight was to write the most damning criticism of the work of the committee.  Double unlucky, it is one of the most famous pieces of writing in our american history (it lives right up there with a few others some people spend  a lot of time misquoting).  The Crucible has long held the distinction of being the most widely read & performed american play outside of this country.  It is all so interesting (truly) & you can find whole volumes on the subject; you can take classes on the struggle between Arthur Miller & Joseph McCarthy, on the widely predicted & very very wrong death of Death of a Salesman as a result of McCarthy et al.   But enough about Arthur Miller, lets talk for a bit about Lance Armstrong.

Earlier this month, Lance Armstrong said (I paraphrase) "I am sick of fighting it, I have a life to live.  You want my Tour de France wins back?  Take 'em".   For those who don't know, Armstrong has been denying allegations of doping for years.  It's interesting they keep coming back, in light of the complete lack of medical evidence etc.  I am not saying he wasn't doping, although as a reader of The Crucible I cannot help but wonder.  Particularly as his most ardent accusers have been other athletes who have actually been caught & then parlayed an easing of their punishment if only they can bring in the big fish.  I think Brit Hammond said it best:  "To me it says if you cheat and lie about it for several years, and then drop somebody else in it, you'll be alright".

Which brings us back around to what Arthur has done.  He has told us more about our system of justice than maybe we want to know, not because it is so awful but because it is so universally human. 

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